Taxpayers will be spending more than €1 million a year on government spokespersons as Cabinet members begin post-election recruitment of Labour Party activists and former Labour TV employees to the government payroll.
As Robert Abela’s second administration gets underway, ministers have begun recruiting staff, mostly canvassers, to join their private secretariats. This has led to 27 new government spokespersons being hired at taxpayers’ expense.
Led by Edward Montebello, who served as Labour TV’s Head of News up to last week and who replaces former One TV journalist Matthew Carbona at the Office of the Prime Minister, all the government’s ministers and parliamentary secretaries have recruited their own communications coordinators on a ‘person of trust’ basis.
While he was still at One TV, Montebello was also hired to head a government agency, as chairman of the Tourism Zones Foundation. He told The Shift that he has left that role since taking his new job at the OPM.
Mostly under the age of 30, with staunch Labour credentials, the new government’s communications team have one common denominator – they have either been active members of Labour’s student organisation Pulse or have spent some time working at One TV, either as ‘journalists’ or camera crew.
Remunerated with a comfortable package of more than €40,000 each excluding perks, the new list of government spokesman includes some familiar faces.
Nicole Buttigieg, who spent the last few years as Labour’s TV’s anti-PN face, in the style of some of her predecessors such as Simone Cini, Charlon Gouder and Claudette Baldacchino, she has now joined the government gravy train as spokesperson for Parliamentary Secretary Chris Bonnett.
Despite having no experience in communications and after just a few years as a Labour Party ‘journalist’ on its propaganda outlet, Buttigieg will now be in charge of disseminating information about the government’s initiatives on EU funds.
In her new position, Buttigieg will be joining other spokespersons granted highly paid jobs in return for their Labour activism and One TV work. These include Melissa Vella at the OPM, Stefan Borg at the family ministry, Ayrton Mifsud at the at the tourism ministry, and Clifford Galea at the active ageing ministry.
Other former journalists, with very short careers, have either joined or were reconfirmed in their position. Former reporter for Malta Today Miriam Dalli and Tia Relic will be acting as spokespersons for ministers Miriam Dalli and Aron Farrugia, while former l-Orizzont journalist Roberta Fenech has ditched her role at the office of Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne to join Economy Minister Silvio Schembri in a similar role.
Ellen Farrugia, brother of Omar, a new Labour MP from Mqabba, has been recruited by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana, while former Pulse President John Luke Ellul is now Minister Jonathan Attard’s new spokesman, himself a former One TV ‘journalist’.
Despite their generous taxpayer-funded salaries, very few of the communications coordinators have any experience in media relations apart from their exposure to the Labour media.
Independent media journalists regularly complain of the government’s spokespersons’ ineffectiveness, lamenting that they either take weeks to answer questions or completely ignore them.
Prime Minister Robert Abela himself is averse to the independent media and has always shied away from giving interviews to non-partisan media outlets. His only interviews before the last general elections were given either to Labour’s media or to Malta Today’s co-owner Saviour Balzan, who while acting as an ‘independent’ journalist, columnist, editor and presenter receives multiple government contracts to provide public relations services to the government.